Tuesday, 16 December 2014

'Tis the Season!

Christmas lights in Uppsala
Lit up trees along Uppsala's river, Fyrisån. 
So it's almost that time again: Christmas break! It's looking Christmas-y here, with beautiful Christmas lights and even the occasional dusting of snow (or at least frost). This coming Friday I'll be heading back to Amsterdam to visit family and friends over the holidays. I had my only exam of the term yesterday, and tomorrow is my last lecture before my break begins.

Scheduling of lectures and exams at Uppsala University is... interesting. As in, totally erratic. I've been led to believe that this is common in Sweden, but I don't know for sure. In any case, the year is basically broken down into 2 semesters (Autumn and Spring), each containing 2 periods. The exact dates are available online at the Academic Calendar page. This page also contains one of the scarier pieces of text that I encountered while I was applying to Uppsala:

There are no formal holiday periods during the semester. There are however short breaks over Christmas and Easter. The exact duration of these breaks will depend on the course that the student is taking at that time.
This made me very nervous when I was applying. However, it's mostly just an artefact of how lecture scheduling is organized at UU. There is no recurring weekly schedule here. Instead, each lecture is scheduled individually based on (I assume) room availability and lecturer preference. This has both positives and negatives. It does make planning your extracurricular activities difficult before the schedule is online, and it is often the case that lectures clash once or twice during the period. It's also more difficult to establish a daily routine since you don't have a set schedule. That being said, the scheduling information for the period is available through an online system called TimeEdit which lets you export your lecture schedule to your computer or smartphone. This makes keeping track of lecture times and any changes to the schedule very convenient.

There are also some definite benefits to the system. For one thing, although there are a few scheduling clashes, it seems very unlikely that more than a couple of lectures will coincide in any given period. This means that unlike at universities with stricter scheduling, Uppsala's course schedule probably won't force you to choose between two courses that you really want to take.

Probably the biggest benefit is the spontaneous breaks during the semester. It is not uncommon to have days without class, and when you get more than one in a row or when they are next to a weekend, you've got yourself a mini vacation! Arlanda Airport is very accessible from Uppsala (about 20 minutes by train), and has flights by several cheap airlines with direct connections to an impressive array of destinations. I love travelling (and being able to go home for Christmas), so this is great news for me!

It is possible to get longer breaks as well. Both of my current courses (Advanced Quantum Mechanics and Geometrical Methods in Theoretical Physics, if you're interested) will have no more lectures after tomorrow. Quantum Mechanics was a full semester (both periods), so we already had plenty of time for the material and the exam, and Geometrical Methods has 4 homework assignments instead of an exam, which we are given time to work on. That means I have no scheduled activities between tomorrow and at least the start of the new semester on January 19th: over a full month of break! Take that, scary warning from the Academic Calendar!

My experience may not be typical, but it is definitely possible. Other courses may start back up again or have an exam before the new semester begins, so in early January. But lecturers want breaks too (even if just to get some uninterrupted research done), so everyone I know has ended up with a very reasonable holiday.  So to them, and everyone else, happy holidays!

1 comment:

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